Saturday, November 22, 2008

Guang Ping Footwork

By Master Randy Elia

Not everyone knows that Tai Chi, specifically Guang Ping Tai Chi, originated as a martial art. Yang Lu Chan, influenced by the Chen Family Tai Chi, clearly demonstrated and taught the same postures to his son, Yang Pan Hou. Chen Style, being the earliest, clearly demonstrates its influence from the external style of Shao Lin, as well as many others. These styles and forms were created hundreds and even thousands of years ago. They were based on the imitation of animals and hold a variety of martial applications and health benefits.

Understanding Footwork
The first method of understanding any martial art is examining proper footwork, especially when practicing Tai Chi. In Guang Ping Tai Chi, as for all kung fu styles, both right and left foot are intentionally positioned in certain directions to align the knees, hips, shoulders,elbows, and hands, thereby creating a structure similar to a house built with a strong foundation. These are the structures that enable one to move mountains.

Stance Consistency
The distance between the feet will remain consistent throughout the form. If you fail to pivot properly on your feet, the distance between your feet will be inconsistent, thereby dispersing energy, like liding on a patch of ice, and losing ground. As Grandmaster Peter Kwok would say "If you did not move your foot properly you have to start again from the beginning until you have it correct! Being only 1 inch off on each stance will bring you a mile off when you are done.

Feet Position
In positioning your feet in Guang Ping, your stances do not exceed a 90-degree angle; this way, you can efficiently transfer energy and power such as executing a push. Your feet should form an "L" shape or L Stance. This practice will give the practitioner a supreme awareness of his or her rooting.

Moving & Adjusting The Feet
Besides planting the feet in these specific directions, one must also know how to pivot on their feet to arrive with the same degree of power. Looking from an aerial view of each moving direction, from the direction you start, you will see an eight-point star. When in motion, practicing Tai Chi solo form or two-person sets (push hands), you become much stronger with the weight on the stationary leg while the other leg is passing that ankle. Not only will you be able to deliver a force devastating to your opponent, but you will also be able to maneuver and yield to any incoming force. When stepping in a direction within 90 degrees, your back foot should pivot on the ball of the foot, positioning your feet in a 90-degree angle.

When stepping in a direction beyond 90 degrees, you should pivot on your back heel so your feet end in a 90-degree angle, or "L" stance. This is so you do not dissipate energy off of the rear foot and so you allow correct alignment from the foot to the knee, the knee to the hip, from the hip up the back, through your shoulders, shoulders to the elbows, elbows to the wrist, and finally out through the palms. This allows the experience of correct movement and understanding of the articulation of the body so the mind (yi) can create the intent.

Ba Gua & Hsing Yi Elements In Guang Ping
The arms are used from the top of the shoulder to the tips of the fingers; in fact, "Fairy Lady Working The Shuttle" resembles the Single Change Palm from Ba Gua Chuan, and "Shoot The Canon In The Sky" resembles the element of Water from Hsing Yi Chuan.

Self Defense & Health Benefits
The choreographed postures of Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi are designed to develop coordination, balance, strength, and self-defense, as well as efficient motion, all of which give us a sense of control over our center. When moving with an opponent, this will position you in certain 45 degree angles when attacking, thereby throwing your opponent off balance.

It is only after we achieve this control we will have the ability to control someone else's center.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kidneys: The Root of Life?

Yep. That's what they've been called.

Well, not in the mid-west where I'm from.

We picture the kidneys as...well...big honkin' kidney beans that hang out inside of us somewhere. Who knows, maybe that's what's causing the intestinal gas.

Okay there's only some truth in the previous paragraph. They do look like big honkin' kidney beans.

The kidneys are each about the size of your fist. They are located near the middle of your back, just behind the lower ribcage. We are born with two of them - one on each side of the spine. (One is usually up a little higher than the other, if that helps the visual.)

They're important, very important. The poor things are constantly, constantly working to keep your blood composition in a healthy balance. They regulate the volume of water in your blood. They make sure important ions and other substances are at the right level and at the correct concentration in the blood stream. They remove yick from your body - yick is a personal technical term meaning: the junk you've put into your body in the form of polluted air, fast food, chemically-ridden city water, and stress. The somewhat real technical terms are: urea, toxic substances, ammonia, etc.

The kidneys even help regulate your blood pressure, help maintain calcium (very important for women in my age group) and they also stimulate the creation of red blood cells - the ones that carry oxygen everywhere in the body - i.e. really important for healing.

But in eastern medicine, the kidneys do this and more. The kidneys store what is called "Essence" or "Innate Jing", or if you will, hereditary energy you received from your parents. Kinda like other things you inherited: hair and eye color, skin coloring, and short stubby little brittle nails that never grow long enough to scratch an itch with. (Thanks a lot, Dad.)

This hereditary energy is expended throughout your life. When it's gone, you're gone.

So, it's important to maintain your Essence for as long as you would like to live. And you do that by not using it up eating poorly, breathing poor air, driving while talking on a cell phone, etc. You can't increase your Essence. It is what it is. You can, however, take hereditary energy supplements. But not from the local drug store.

These supplements come in the form of qi, life energy, and you get it from eating good foods, breathing clean air (sorry, I know most of us can't fully control our immediate environments), getting good amounts of exercise, and ridding yourself of stress.

So, how does one rid stress from their lives? Get a good teacher and practice tai chi. Or yoga. Or glass blowing. Or kite flying. It doesn't matter what it is as long as it: helps you breathe deeply and evenly, keeps your sitting heart rate low, maintains healthy blood pressure, and keeps your mind clear. Clear of thoughts that cause emotional stress - like constant ridicule, or judgemental thoughts (which come in many different forms including humor), anger or hostile thoughts, panicked thoughts of insecurity, and thoughts of inferiority.

There are a lot more, but you get the drift.

These kinds of intense emotions really rock the kidneys (never say 'stone' to a kidney).

They do it figuratively and physically.

The adrenal glands lay on top of each kidney. They kick into gear when we choose to feel stressed out. They start shootin' out hormones like an AK-47 on fire. When they start vibrating, the kidneys do too. That's why we always feel like we have to go to the bathroom when we're really nervous.

So here's a good starting exercise to bring health to the kidneys. This is one of many qigong (energy work) exercises from Master Yu-Cheng Huang:

Info you'll need to know for this exercise:
Laogong Point - the laogong is located on the palm of the hand. If you take your middle finger and touch your palm, you've found it!

It really helps, when doing the following exercise, to be as relaxed as your body can at this moment in time. The shoulders are in their natural position - not forced back, the feet are relaxed and not clenching the floor, breathwork is slow and even. The pelvis is slightly tilted forward to round out the lower back. The crown of the head is the tallest point of the body.

1. Bring your attention to the palm of your hands. Don't picture your hands in your head. Feel them. Concentrate on the laogong point. Imagine yourself bringing energy to this point. Now, place the palms of your hands or the laogong points on the back over the kidney area.

3. Take a nice breath in expanding the belly, not the chest. As you do this, imagine energy entering into the laogong. Exhale and imagine the energy releasing into the kidneys. While breathing, the hands move...rub...from the kidneys to the coccyx (tailbone). When inhaling, the hands move up, when exhaling, the hands move down. Repeat this exercise between 9 and 36 times.

4. When the hands are at the kidneys and you have inhaled, imagine that you have sealed the energy in the kidneys and count to 9. Imagine that energy now moving to the dantien while your hands move around the sides of the body and create an inverted triangle with the thumbs and index fingers on the dantien. Allow you mind to seal the energy in the dantien.

If anything, this exercise allows you to take a moment to breath - even if you can't imagine the energy, can't feel the palms of the hands, can't imagine sealing anything, anywhere. It's okay. It takes time to settle into new practices. Give it time.

So now let me ask you a question: When's the last time you had a glass of water?

Well, go get one. Hold it high and toast your kidneys. They've been working hard. Now drink the water.

How were you introduced to Taijiquan?

Do you remember your first taiji class? What was it like? How did you get involved? Why did you get involved?

Here's my story, but we'd love to hear yours:

I'll never forget the first tai chi class I checked out. We had just moved to Columbus, Ohio and my husband was kinda getting on me for not finding a local sensei to keep up with my karate.

I was also pregnant with my first child.

And emotional.

And not always patient.

Or nice.

Which is why my husband wanted me to leave and go to karate class.

His eyes pleaded with me: "A little break from your mood swings...please?" they pined, hoping that I was going to drop the newspaper I was currently looking at and check out the yellow pages for local dojos.

I couldn't really picture myself doing a round house kick with mother earth sticking out of my uniform. It also didn't seem natural for me to spar with a young fetus growing inside me. It just felt...wrong somehow. Like when I go into a girls clothing store and see skimpy, low cut tops for 8-year-olds. It just feels...wrong.

So, karate...didn't feel natural.

I sat there with the newspaper, avoiding my husband's longing stare when a little article grabbed my attention. It was just a simple listing for a tai chi class. I tore it out and showed it to my husband.

He sighed in relief.

In retrospect, I think at that point, he would have sighed in relief if I had shown him an ad for wrestling boar goats.

Anyway, I don't actually remember the class. I just remember the feeling I had afterward: I was home.

Just watching tai chi dissolved my tension. It created space where I didn't see any before. There was more of an area to breathe into. I was mesmerized by the class as they flowed in and out of one movement to the next. I didn't know where one posture began or ended and I liked that. That felt right. There was no beginning or end. There just...was.

And I was home.

And my husband was happy, too.